Where are you from?

So beautiful. So eloquent. So right:
Taiye Selasi’s TED Talk “Don’t ask me where I’m from, ask me where I’m a local”

What if we asked, instead of “Where are you from?” –“Where are you a local?” This would tell us so much more about who and how similar we are. Tell me you’re from France, and I see what, a set of clichés? Adichie’s dangerous single story, the myth of the nation of France?Tell me you’re a local of Fez and Paris, better yet, Goutte d’Or, and I see a set of experiences. Our experience is where we’re from.

The difference between “Where are you from?” and “Where are you a local?” isn’t the specificity of the answer; it’s the intention of the question. Replacing the language of nationality with the language of locality asks us to shift our focus to where real life occurs.

And what are we really seeing when we hear an answer? Here’s one possibility: basically, countries represent power. “Where are you from?” Mexico. Poland. Bangladesh. Less power. America. Germany. Japan. More power. China. Russia. Ambiguous. It’s possible that without realizing it, we’re playing a power game, especially in the context of multi-ethnic countries. As any recent immigrant knows, the question “Where are you from?” or “Where are you really from?” is often code for “Why are you here?”

Perhaps my biggest problem with coming from countries is the myth of going back to them. I’m often asked if I plan to “go back” to Ghana. I go to Accra every year, but I can’t “go back” to Ghana. It’s not because I wasn’t born there.My father can’t go back, either. The country in which he was born, that country no longer exists. We can never go back to a place and find it exactly where we left it.Something, somewhere will always have changed, most of all, ourselves. People.

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